My Dissertation

Exploring Creative LearningProcesses of Refugee Children and their Peers—A Case Study

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This ethnographic case study investigates the access refugee children have to creative learning in a high school in Glasgow as well as the impact of social capital on the scholarly development and inclusion of this group of children.

Research on refugee children in Scottish school settings has primarily focused on provisions such as language support and well–being (e.g. Green, 2006; Hopkins & Hill, 2006; Netto & Fraser, 2009). However, there is hardly any research that explores the actual learning processes and daily social interactions of this group within schools (e.g. Dobson, McCulloch, & Sime, 2008; Frondigoun et al., 2007; Rolfe & Metcalf, 2009).
The present study addressed this research gap by conducting an ethnographic case study using qualitative means including participant observation, field notes, participants’ photography, group discussions, interviews, conversations and open-ended questionnaires. The collected data was analysed by means of the analytical software NVivo™, research diaries, and manual coding of field notes.

My findings demonstrated strong indicators for social capital and their impact on positive learning experiences. The refugee pupils displayed strong cultural competences; monolingual peers in contrast displayed selective social competences depending on the relevance of a situation. The findings, which were interpreted within a conceptual framework that was developed as part of this research, showed the relevance of space in its physical and metaphorical properties to create creative learning strategies. Although access to these strategies was facilitated in all the three classroom spaces, the English as Additional Language (EAL) Unit appeared to be the most conducive environment. These findings highlight the niche position of the EAL Unit as a non-mainstream space in school, which seemed to provide more freedom for creating learning spaces, as a result of not having to adhere to the curriculum framework (5–14 Curriculum, Curriculum for Excellence).


  1. Fascinating work here Dr. Sheridan. The social interaction within the schools themselves, irrespective of grade level, really has a strong influence on the results.

    Historically classrooms have almost equated to independent silos making collaboration of content and resources from student to student, much less teacher to teacher, a challenge at best.

    As children we’re constantly encouraged to share and work together to solve problems and as we grow up that encouragement wains. As a adults it is suddenly expected again. This area you identify is clearly ripe for improvement.



    1. Thank you for your comment Jason, apologies for the late reply. I like your picture of the ‘independent silos’, although not that this was exactly my impression from the mainstream classrooms in secondary school.
      Considering the hierarchical structure of secondary schools in Scotland I am wondering though how this isolation can be overcome and collaborative approaches to learning and teaching encouraged…



  2. I am interested in following your findings. I work with teachers in a small American school with about 14 ELLs (English Language Learners) and teachers are struggling to acclimate a couple of Arab immigrants. Our ELL teacher is only with us two days a week; we have to share her with another school and she barely speaks Spanish, let alone any other languages. Only half of our LEP (Limited English Proficient) students even speak Spanish so our district hires translators to attend parent conferences. In the mean time, we are using SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) to differentiate the way we teach so that ELLs (some of whom are native to our country, but still lack proficiency with the language) benefit.

    When you talk about social capital, are you referring to benefits of socializing with peers? Correct me if I am reading into what you are saying, but I take away from this the implication that deviating from the core curriculum fosters opportunities for creative social engagement. The natives are naturally less creative because they don’t need to be within the conventional curricular framework, whereas the non-native students have to be adaptive and thus more creative. Their creativity inspires their native peers and thus a productive social exchange. Am I following you?

    If I may make a broad leap and build on Jason’s comment, this is why project based learning is so important and it is also the reason PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) are critical to the success of academia in the 21st century. You may both appreciate this article by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Edwin Lou Javious, “Teach Up for Excellence,” publish in this months Educational Leadership magazine.


    1. When I talk about social capital, it refers to both the relationships between the learners and yes the peer support within learning situations which depends largely on trust (not being afraid to make mistakes in front of peers, trusting that the knowledge passed on is done so in good faith to be correct etc) and reciprocity (mutual agreement to support and help when needed) but also humor (establishing stronger bonds through inclusive humor, banter etc) and the relationships between the learners and their teachers. Here the teachers used their social capital to provide access (social capital, cultural capital) to the learners and literally bridge gaps between the learners and for instance institutions such as banks.

      I would not necessarily say deviating from the core curriculum (the curriculum in Scotland is a guidance framework) it is more about creating room within the curriculum. When the teacher referred to not having to go strictly with the curriculum she was referring to related assessment schedules rather than lesson planning. I am not saying one group is more creative than the other (which would be outright wrong) it is more that the different learning environments provided different chances for creative learning. I tried to make a point that although the mainstream environment was not always conductive to creative learning, the children tried to gain control over the learning process and reacted with discipline infringements when feeling out of control or when they could not see relevance in a learning situation. The non-native children were encouraged by their teachers and the learning space of the EAL Unit provided for utilization of creative learning strategies.
      However, I found out that cultural competences varied between the both groups. I hope I could clarify your questions.

      I agree with you and Jason that creative learning strategies should be translated into mainstream classrooms.


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